Dr. René Nuñez was born and raised in San Diego of immigrant parents. He grew up in Logan Heights, one of the oldest Mexican barrios in San Diego. His parents worked in the fish canneries. He attended area elementary schools, Memorial Jr. High, and graduated from San Diego High School in1955. He served in the Armed Services from 1959 to 1963 and returned to receive a BA in Spanish from UCLA in 1967. From 1967 to 1968 he was CORO Fellow, an urban studies internship in Los Angeles. He went on to receive MAs in Urban Affairs at Occidental College in 1972 and in Political Science at UCSD in 1985. He received a PhD in Education from San Diego State University and Claremont Graduate University’s joint Doctoral Program in 1994.
As a student at UCLA, Nuñez became a political activist. In 1966 he was Director of the Educational Clearinghouse for Central Los Angeles, a federally funded college outreach program focusing on Chicano students in East LA and African American students in South-Central LA. He organized students to support the United Farm Workers strike in the grape fields of Delano in 1966. At the same time, as a member of the Educational Issues Coordinating Committee, he was involved in demonstrations for improvement of Chicano education and supported the 1968 Chicano Student Walkouts. He also helped organize an educational demonstration at the Biltmore Hotel in which, then Governor, Ronald Reagan was the keynote speaker. A number of educators, students, and activists were arrested. Ten among them, including Nuñez, were charged with felonies: breaking and entering, conspiracy and arson. The group became known as the Biltmore 10; Nuñez was acquitted in 1969. Additionally, he was active in the Anti-Vietnam War Movement in Los Angeles in the late 60’s.
Nuñez was one of the organizers of the Santa Barbara Conference held at UC Santa Barbara in 1969. This conference produced the first coherent plan for the expansion and institutionalization of Chicano Studies Programs and Departments, which sprang into being throughout the state the following year. The Conference was also the birthplace of MEChA the amalgamation of Chicano student organization from throughout the state of California. In the heat of some three years of political struggle, Nuñez, with thousands of other young students and community activists, came to see themselves as Chicanos and the Chicano Movement came into being throughout the Southwest.
In the fall of 1969, Nuñez returned to San Diego State University as the Director of the Centro de Estudios Chicanos. He soon began teaching in Chicana and Chicano Studies bringing the richness of his life experience to the classroom. As one of the original developers of Chicano Studies at SDSU, Nuñez felt it important to expose Chicano students, as well as students at large, to principles and desired outcomes of the Chicano Movement, which included the need for Chicanos to recover their history, to develop critical thinking skills and thereby begin to deconstruct negative portrayals of the Chicano reality, and to understand the importance of giving back to their community.
Nuñez retired as an Emeritus Professor from SDSU in 2002. He continued to teach at SDSU and was a Consultant in Educational Issues, Multicultural Affairs, and Race and Human Relations. He worked extensively with Spanish speaking parents with children in elementary schools helping them to understand the system and to demand their rights as parents. He also trained teachers in the value of parent involvement, helping them to understand the needs of parents and parent’s rights in the school system. He continued his activism, helping with the recent San Diego Marcha de Dignidad, Justicia y Igualdad in March 2006 which drew over 100,000 pro-immigrant participants.
He was a member of the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS), published in its’ journals, and was a member the California Association of Bilingual Educators (CABE). He was a lead participant in the San Diego County Latino Coalition for Education and was a member of its Education Committee, which met with the Superintendent of San Diego City Schools to advise on Latino educational issues. He was also a lead principal in the writing of El Plan Educativo de San Diego.
Survivors include: Dr. Nuñez’s wife of 29 years, Caroline Moran; sons Gabriel Nuñez-Soria and Ricky Nuñez -Moran of San Diego; sisters Esther Avalos and Irene Campbell of San Diego; sister Stella Narcio of National City; and brother, Ben Nuñez of El Cajon.
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Scheduled public tributes for Nuñez are planned as follows: a ‘Celebration of Life’ on Saturday, August 26th, 3:00PM to 6:00PM, Chicano Park, Barrio Logan, San Diego; and a ‘Teach-In and Call to Action’ on Friday, September 8th, 5:30 to 8:00PM, SDSU, in the new Arts and Letters Building Auditorium.